The Write Off: Royal Rumble 1988

For those who are new to the column here is how matches are broken down: penalty (bad), audit (average), deduction (good), and return (excellent).

Event Details:
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Hosts: Vince McMahon and Jesse “the Body” Ventura
Reported Attendance: 18,000

The brief story behind this show on the USA Network was that McMahon wanted to air a free cable alternative to the NWA’s Bunkhouse Battle Royal. Needless to say this show popped a good rating and took an audience away from Dusty Rhodes’s big match. However, the NWA would get its revenge later in the year when it aired the first Clash of the Champions show opposite WrestleMania IV (a show which will be reviewed in a few weeks) and the Sting-Ric Flair title match drew a good audience away from the lackluster WWF title tournament. This is a hard show to find unless you know someone on e-bay selling a copy because it was never commercially released by the WWF due to it being a network special. Little did anyone know that the Royal Rumble would soon become the third WWF pay-per-view event after WrestleMania and the Survivor Series (which first aired in 1987).

Opening Contest: “Ravishing” Rick Rude vs. Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat:

Funny bit on commentary to start the match as Ventura makes fun of McMahon’s physique and who would have thought back in 1988 that Vince would one day be on the cover of a fitness magazine? Steamboat fires away to start the match but Rude gives him a rake to the eyes. Rude hurls Steamboat over the top rope but Steamboat skins the cat back inside and backdrops Rude to the arena floor. Rude shakes it off on the floor and returns to taunt the crowd. Rude offers a test of strength and drives Steamboat to his knees. However, Steamboat fights up and takes Rude down to apply an armbar and then works over the arm with various wristlock holds. Rude escapes only to have Steamboat slide under his legs on a whip, deliver an armdrag, and trap him in another armbar. I might also note that there is a fan at ringside with a megaphone and you can hear him throughout the match. Thankfully it’s confiscated later.

After a while in the armbar both men renew the action and Steamboat gets a chop off of the ropes and gets another armdrag into an armbar. I understand the love for Steamboat but I really hate when he gets zoned in like this on the arm, especially on live television where he does not have an hour to put on a good match. After another lengthy time on the mat in the armbar, Rude fights up with a kick to the gut and some fists and then hits an elbow off the ropes. Rude takes Steamboat to the buckle in three different corners and unloads with punches. However, Steamboat again slides under Rude’s legs twice when he is whipped into the ropes and gets another armdrag into armbar combination. Steamboat continues to work the arm as the crowd loses interest in this opening encounter. Rude hits an elbow off the ropes when both men return to their feet and drives a knee into Steamboat’s back. Steamboat ends up getting in a few chops to regain the advantage, though, but is stopped when Rude hits him in the gut with a knee and Steamboat falls to the floor.

Outside, Rude slams Steamboat’s head into the apron and gives him a slam on the outside. Rude ends up pulling Steamboat onto the apron and after dazing him with an elbow to the head hits a suplex inside for two. Rude then applies a reverse chinlock as Steamboat pounds the mat to get the crowd into it, something that would be considered a tapout today. Rude jumps down onto Steamboat’s back several times in between reapplying the maneuver and gets some heat from the crowd by posing over Steamboat’s limp body. Steamboat screws up the hand drop spot by letting his hand fall down three times and makes referee Dave Hebner look like an idiot when he stands there confused and then checks Steamboat’s hand a fourth time and that is when Steamboat starts to rise off the canvas with Rude on his shoulders and falls backward for a double KO.

Steamboat gets up first and tries to splash Rude off the ropes but Rude lifts up his knees to block. Rude rakes Steamboat’s eyes and then nails him with an atomic drop for two after taunting. However, right when the match appears going somewhere Rude REAPPLIES the reverse chinlock and Steamboat escapes this time by pushing Rude into the corner. Steamboat takes Rude to the buckle ten times as the crowd counts along, a spot we need to see more of today, and then hits a falling chop for two. However, Rude knocks Steamboat down and gets him in a headlock and a series of reversals see Rude go on top of Steamboat for one until Steamboat bridges out into a backslide for two. Steamboat then follows it up with two rollups for two. Rude reverses a small package into one of his own for two and then Steamboat reverses that for two. Rude hits a clothesline off the ropes after an eye rake for two. Steamboat reverses a suplex for double KO #2.

Steamboat gets up first and goes for the top rope crossbody but Rude pulls the referee in front of him and he ends up taking the blow. Rude then gets Steamboat in a hanging backbreaker and the bell rings as Rude celebrates but the end result is Rude getting disqualified because he put him in the way of Steamboat’s crossbody at 17:46.

MATCH RATING: PENALTY. I like both guys involved in this match but this was quite disappointing. Both used a ton of rest holds and while I can appreciate that if it fits into the psychology of the match that was not the case here. For example, Steamboat worked over the arm for almost eight minutes in the beginning and Rude did not sell it at all. Also, Steamboat’s gaffe with the reverse chinlock spot halfway in did not leave a good taste in my mouth after this match.

-“Mean” Gene Okerlund and Ventura staff the weighlifting zone set up near the entrance ramp that awaits Dino Bravo’s world record attempt at the bench press which Ventura informs us is 705 pounds. I should also note that Ventura is Bravo’s spotter for his various attempts. One might think that Bravo would come out and just simply try to bench press 705 pounds right off the bat but NO we do not do that. Instead, we start at 415 pounds and gradually work our way up and believe me, that takes a while…nearly FIFTEEN MINUTES to be exact which also includes a walkoff attempt. The one gem that comes out of the segment is, of course, a Ventura quote where he tells the audience who will not heed Bravo’s request to be quiet “Whether or not you like the guy at least give him a chance.” Anyway, the segment ends with Bravo trying to lift 715 pounds and only getting it a quarter of the way with Ventura grabbing hold of the bar and helping him achieve the record. This was supposed to build Bravo’s “world’s strongest man” gimmick but did not really do anything special for him. Considering how Smackdown! is still exploring options to get Mark Henry over as a credible main eventer I am surprised someone has not gone into the tape library and thought of reviving this segment although I am not weeping about it. Anyway, terrible segment and would receive a penalty rating if I received segments.

Two-out-of-Three Falls WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship Match: The Glamour Girls (Champions w/Jimmy Hart) vs. The Jumping Bomb Angels:

Yes, you are reading the tag for this match correctly. At one time the WWF actually had a women’s tag team division and there was actually a big storyline heading into this match with the Jumping Bomb Angels earning a shot at the belts after eliminating the Glamour Girls at the first Survivor Series in the women’s match that also included such notables as Sensational Sherri (then the WWF Women’s Champion), the Fabulous Moolah, Rockin’ Robin, and Velvet McIntyre.

The Angels start off the match by giving the Girls a double dropkick and we start the match off with Lelani Kai and Noriyo Tateno. Kai throws Tateno around by her hair after Tateno missed a dropkick and tags in Judy Martin. Martin hits a slam and Tateno escapes with a bridge. Tateno gets a rollup for two and tags in Itsuki Yamakazi who hits Martin with a modified rolling clothesline. Modified suplex gets one. I’ll point out here that the Angels offense was full of moves that WWF fans were not accustomed to at this particular time and as a result were super over with the crowd. Ventura asks McMahon for the names of the Angels, something I also need for this review, but McMahon notes that he does not know and he starts calling them by the color of their tights (pink and red) and Ventura snickers at that. Well that’s great Vince, thanks! Tateno gets tagged in and traps Martin in a body scissors. However, Martin fights up and slams Tateno down after catching her in a bodypress off the ropes but proceeds to miss an elbowdrop. Kai gets tagged in but Yamakazi gets tagged in and gives Kai a running clothesline and dropkick. The Angels ping pong Kai between themselves and that gets two. Yamakazi then ties up Kai in an octopus and when Martin comes into the ring, Yamakazi lifts Kai up who takes Kai’s blow and we see a brief four-way brawl that culminates in the Angels applying simultaneous figure-four leglocks on the Girls. Yamakazi proceeds to go about splitting Kai’s legs twice and Angel #1 is tagged in tieing Kai in a failed bow and arrow submission. Tag back to Yamakazi and as Kai tries to fight her way back to the corner, Martin rushes into the ring and a tug of war results with Kai in the middle between the Angels and Martin and that ends up badly for Kai. Kai finally pulls herself into the corner but an initial tag is voided because Martin’s feet are on the bottom rope. However, Kai eventually tags in Martin and she throws Yamakazi into the corner. Yamakazi tries to kick Martin on a blind charge but Martin grabs her legs and drops her to the canvas. Kai ends up kneeing Yamakazi in the back when she runs the ropes and Martin ends up hitting a MODIFIED POWERBOMB for the pin and the first fall at 6:16. As Scott Keith noted in his review of this show, a powerbomb would not be introduced to American audiences en masse until Sid in 1989 and these women were pulling off VARIATIONS of it to show you how historically significant and new that finishing sequence was.

The second fall starts after a commercial break with Martin slamming Yamakazi’s face into the mat. Clothesline and running boot to the stomach get one after a bridge escape. Martin delivers a slam but a splash off the ropes misses and Tateno gets tagged in, dropkicks Martin and delivers a falling clothesline. Second rope clothesline gets two and a bodypress off the ropes gets two. Tag Yamakazi and the Angels hit a double-suplex. Four-way brawl results and the Angels stop before they are whipped into each other and duck a clothesline from the Girls who hit each other and Kai falls to the arena floor. However, Martin body avalanches Yamakazi off the ropes but when Martin tries the modified powerbomb again, Yamakazi slides over her back and gets a sunset flip to win the fall at 1:53. Nice use of psychology on that fall but I think that goes without saying.

The third and final fall begins after another commercial break and the Angels hit Kai with a double-kneelift and double-clothesline for a near-fall. Kai fights back with kicks and tags in Martin but Yamakazi hits an enzeguri, although not up to Owen Hart standards, and tags in Tateno. However, Tateno’s suplex attempt is blocked and Martin whips Tateno into the corner. Blind charge eats buckle, though, and a backslide is given by Tateno but that gets zero. Martin then slingshots Tateno into the canvas and tags in Kai who delivers a rolling snapmare after Martin puts Tateno in a sitting position with a standing snapmare. Kai then hot shots Tateno by her hair on the top rope when Tateno is standing on the apron and delivers a double underhook suplex for two. Kai bites the arm and tags in Martin but she allows Yamakazi to be tagged in. That makes little difference, though, as the Girls gain the advantage and the Girls double-whip Yamakazi into the corner after Kai is tagged back in. Kai hits a snapmare for one and a re-cover gets one. Yamakazi starts a comeback with fists and then dumps Kai on her rear end from behind twice for two. Geez that looked painful. Martin gets tagged in and Yamakazi does not even wait for her to get in by tossing her in by the hair. Tag Tateno and she hits a top rope kneedrop on Martin after she’s slammed by Yamakazi. Tateno hits a slam for one. Double underhook suplex into a bridge gets two and tag Yamakazi. The moves behind bust out in this match are just wild for the time. Yamakazi hits a modified bodypress off the ropes for two. Yamakazi hits another slam but a second rope senton bomb eats canvas and Martin covers for two. However, Yamakazi trips up Martin and tags in Tateno. Flying clothesline off of the second rope as Yamakazi holds Martin in place gets two before Kai interrupts the count. Then as the referee is tied up with Kai, the Angels nail Martin with a double missile dropkick from opposite corners and Tateno covers for the fall and the titles at 5:55.

MATCH RATING: RETURN. On a men’s scale this match would probably be a deduction but on a women’s scale of matches this was very good. In fact it is one of the best women’s matches I have ever seen outside of the Alundra Blayze-Bull Nakano series in 1994-1995 especially in terms of crowd interest and innovative moves being put out. Unfortunately for the Angels they would get too over for the WWF’s taste and would quickly exit the federation after this and the women’s tag team titles would also disappear.

-McMahon takes us back to clips from WrestleMania III’s match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and he debates Ventura over Joey Marella’s count of a pin earlier in the match when Andre fell on top of Hogan when he initially tried to slam him.

-Clips are shown of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase offering to buy the WWF Championship from Hulk Hogan and Hogan telling him “hell no.”

-Video is shown from a television taping where Andre the Giant ambushed Hulk Hogan and headbutted and choked him unconscious.

-Video is shown of DiBiase asking Andre if he will deliver him the WWF Championship and Andre says he will do so and enjoy it.

-Contract signing is done between Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan for their February 5th rematch for the WWF Championship at the Main Event in Indianapolis, Indiana with WWF President Jack Tunney presiding over the signing and Okerlund doing the mic work. This match was huge because the Main Event show marked the return of wrestling to prime time television after a thirty-three year absence. Andre also has Ted DiBiase and Virgil with him. At this particular time the black eagle world title belt had not been created so Hogan still has the smaller world title belt that he won from the Iron Sheik back in 1985. This signing goes on for a LONG time with DiBiase taunting Hogan and telling him that Andre will destroy him and then sell him the title. You know, why did Tunney not clarify to DiBiase that he could not pay for the title? If he had done so we could have avoided the entire WrestleMania IV mess. After a lengthy period of time, Andre signs the contract and puts his “stamp of approval” on the document by slamming Hogan’s head into the table when he lunges for DiBiase and then turns the table on top of him.

Royal Rumble Match:

One clarification to this match before we have this match start: there are only twenty men as opposed to thirty men that the match would expand to when the Royal Rumble would go on pay-per-view the next year. All other rules apply though. #1 is drawn by Bret “the Hitman” Hart who has Jimmy Hart with him and #2 is drawn by Tito Santana. Both of them at this particular time were in tag teams and had tension between them as Bret was from the Hart Foundation who were the former tag team champions and Santana was with Rick Martel in Strike Force who were the tag team champions having beaten the Hart Foundation for the belts. Bret and Santana take turns lacing into each other with fists and kicks until Bret hits an inverted atomic drop and elbow to the back of Santana’s head off of the second rope. Bret tries to eliminate Santana as the clock runs down and fails. #3 is “The Natural” Butch Reed. Reed goes directly after Santana and almost dumps him out but Santana blocks. Santana then gives a double-noggin knocker to Bret and Reed but cannot hold off both of the heels for long. Reed gives Santana a double axehandle off of the second rope as Bret holds Santana in place and the heels then give Santana a double-elbow off of the ropes. #4 is Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart and he takes his time getting to the ring as Santana avoids getting hit with a running kneelift from Reed as Bret holds him in place and Bret takes the blow which nearly sends him over the top rope. The three heels pummel Santana without mercy for over a minute but all three of them cannot eliminate Santana. #5 is Jake “the Snake” Roberts and he makes Royal Rumble history by throwing Reed over the top rope and getting credit for the first elimination. A fun Texas Tornado tag match develops between the Hart Foundation and Santana and Roberts and the faces whip the Hart Foundation into each other. However, when Roberts tried to DDT Bret, Neidhart gives him a clothesline to break it up. Funny bit on commentary as McMahon says he would never participate in a match like this.

#6 is “The King” Harley Race and he goes after Roberts with a series of elbowdrops. Neidhart and Race try to eliminate Roberts but that fails and Neidhart quickly saves Bret from elimination by Santana. #7 is “Jumping” Jim Brunzell of the Killer Bees and he gives the Hart Foundation a double-noggin knocker. Santana and Brunzell try to eliminate Bret but fail on that account. Brunzell then tries to eliminate Race but does not succeed. #8 is Sam Houston and he chooses the biggest target in the ring in Neidhart and more than holds his own in that encounter. I do not think the crowd could see the countdown clock for the next person to enter the match because they do not count down from ten seconds as would become a Rumble staple in later years. Santana finally cannot take any more punishment and he is hurled over the ropes by the Hart Foundation. #9 is “Dangerous” Danny Davis and he and Sam Houston renew their curtain jerker rivalry as Roberts pinballs Harley Race as he sits on the second rope. #10 is Boris Zhukov of the Bolsheviks and he picks a good target in Sam Houston.

#11 is “The Rock” Don Muraco who is curiously followed to ringside by Nikolai Volkoff who thinks he is number eleven by the referees hold him back and say that he is next so he will have to wait until the clock runs down. Either way, Muraco gives him a right hand for good measure on the floor. Volkoff’s partner, Zhukov, wishes he was entrant number eleven, though, because he gets eliminated by Roberts and Brunzell. #12 is unsurprisingly Nikolai Volkoff of the Bolsheviks and he also chooses to go after Sam Houston as Muraco eliminates Race after a big right hand. Nothing of note happens as #13 is Hacksaw Jim Duggan and he is clotheslined by Race on his way to the ring. When Duggan get to the ring he goes for Neidhart and tries to eliminate him with Muraco but that fails. #14 is “The Outlaw” Ron Bass and he ends up tussling with Muraco. There really need to be some eliminations here because the ring is getting clogged up and as if on cue Volkoff backdrops Brunzell out of the match. #15 is B. Brian Blair of the Killer Bees and he smartly goes after Bret because he has been the longest participant in the match. Ventura hilariously calls him a coward and rants against him saying that he is picking on the most worn down guy in the match.

#16 is Hillbilly Jim and he backdrops Neidhart out of the match when Neidhart charges at him. The crowd is firmly against Danny Davis in this match and cheers anyone who comes close to eliminating him from the match. #17 is Dino Bravo and he ends up battling with Hillbilly Jim. Sam Houston somehow ends up on Ron Bass’s shoulders and Bass simply goes near the ropes and dumps him out. Davis is hilarious as he tries to give Bret a breather and gives him a pep talk. #18 is the Ultimate Warrior before he became anything serious and shortly after he enters the match to brawl with Bravo, Muraco takes Bret by the hair and hurls him to the floor. However, Bret sets the first Rumble longevity record at nearly 26 minutes. #19 is the One Man Gang in what appears to be a deadly draw for him and he gives a few blows to Roberts. Gang hurls Blair to the arena floor and then throws out Roberts. #20 is the Junkyard Dog and he attacks Bravo.

Remaining participants: Volkoff, Duggan, Muraco, Warrior, Davis, Bass, JYD, Bravo, Gang, and Jim. Duggan backdrops Volkoff out after Volkoff misses a punch. Gang then backdrops Jim to the floor. Duggan then does the impossible by actually completing a three point stance clothesline from another side of the ring on Davis to eliminate him to a big pop. I think that is the only time Duggan eliminated someone from a battle royal type match with that move because he usually gets backdropped out when he tries that move. Gang and Bravo team up to dump out Warrior as Muraco fails to save him. Bass throws out the JYD and a few seconds later Muraco eliminates Bass after a forearm to the back.

The final four: Muraco, Gang, Duggan, and Bravo. Gang and Bravo incapacitate Duggan and while Muraco tries to fight both of them off he makes the fatal error of dropkicking Frenchie Martin off the apron when he has Gang dazed after a dropkick. Another crazy elimination then occurs as Bravo holds Muraco in place for a Gang clothesline and the Gang actually HITS Muraco and Bravo lets Muraco go and Muraco proceeds to go over the top rope and to the floor. Never seen that work before either. Gang and Bravo double-clothesline Duggan and Bravo gives him an elbowdrop. Bravo holds Duggan in place for another clothesline from Gang but this time Duggan moves out of the way and Bravo takes the blow which sends him over the top rope. Duggan dazes the Gang but gets a fist to the back of the head when he ducks on a whip and the Gang chokes Duggan along the top rope. Gang then attempts to clothesline Duggan out but Duggan ducks and pulls down the top rope and the Gang’s forward momentum sends him to the floor as Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble at 33:21.

MATCH RATING: AUDIT. This was the first ever Royal Rumble match so this was a test run to see if the concept could be effective. It got such a positive response that the Royal Rumble has become an annual event since this 1988 show and a pay-per-view extravaganza instead of a cable special. This match had too many midcarders and tag team wrestlers to be on the same level as future Rumble matches and it also did not have any storylines behind it or that were told in the match and that hurts it rating wise as well.

-McMahon and Ventura recap the contract signing from earlier.

-WWF Champion Hulk Hogan cuts a promo about the February 5th match against Andre the Giant. Nothing interesting is said but he does pose for the audience.

Main Event Two-out-of-Three Falls Match: The Islanders vs. The Young Stallions:

When I watch late 1980s WWF tag team action I always feel that the Islanders got the shaft. I think they should have gotten a tag title reign somewhere and are underrated when people talk of good tag team combinations. Tama and Jim Powers start off and a lockup sees Tama poke Powers in the eyes. Powers goes over Tama on a backdrop attempt and gives him a slam so Tama bails to regroup himself on the floor. Back in, Tama offers a handshake but when he tries to kick Powers after he accepts Powers is ready, catches the foot, and gives him an atomic drop. That is another spot you do not get to see anymore…the handshake spot. The Stallions pinball Tama between themselves and Powers whips Tama into the corner but a blind charge eats buckle. Tag Haku but he misses a falling chop and tag Paul Roma. Roma and Haku trade arm twisters with Roma prevailing but Haku hits a shoulderblock and reversing a hiptoss into one of his own. Roma hits a high impact bodypress off the ropes, though, for two and tags in Powers. Stallions hit a double-elbow off the ropes for two and Powers gets an arm twister only to get poked in the eyes. Tama hits a snapmare and slam but misses a big elbowdrop. However, Powers pushes Tama back into his own corner so he tags in Haku and he hits an elbow off the ropes for two. Tag Tama and he hits a top rope chop on Powers when Haku holds him in place. Tama hits a headbutt and then the Islanders hit a double-headbutt. Haku takes Powers to the buckle and whips him into the opposite corner but blind charge eats knee. However, Powers cannot capitalize but then we see a double-clothesline spot give us a double KO and Tama and Roma are tagged in. Roma hits a clothesline as Tama begs off and Roma hits a good dropkick. Roma backdrops Tama and knocks Haku off the apron. Tama screws up a dropkick spot by not running into Roma’s dropkick but Roma still covers for two. Tama ends up getting in an eye rake, though, and throws Roma over the top rope after Haku pulls the rope down and Roma appears to legitimately have damaged his right knee from the fall and that leads to a countout at 7:50.

-Roma is taken backstage for treatment and to fill time DiBiase comes out to cut a promo with Virgil and Andre the Giant at his side and he says that on February 5th Hulk Hogan will lose the WWF Championship to Andre and he will end up getting what he wants because he always does.

The Stallions return to ringside with Roma barely able to stand on his busted knee and visibly in pain. Unfortunately for them the winner and loser of the previous fall have to start the next fall which means that Roma has to start the fall versus Tama. Tama simply rakes Roma’s eyes and then kicks him in the right knee which collapses Roma and then works over the knee. Tama slams Roma but a splash off the ropes hits knees and I imagine that hurt Roma a ton. Roma is able to limp over to the corner and tag in Powers as Tama tags Haku. Powers gets two on Haku off of a backdrop and unloads on him in the corner. Powers whips Haku into the corner and gets a clothesline and gets two after a stomp. Powers hits a dropkick for two as he is basically wrestling a handicap match the rest of the way here. Powers hits a suplex for two. Elbow off the ropes gets two. Powers slams Haku’s head into the mat but a fist to the gut ends that offensive display and Tama gets tagged in. Tama unloads and Powers is floored with a double-headbutt when Haku comes back in. Powers gets two off of a fluke small package when Haku ducks his head on a whip. Haku hits a backbreaker for two. Tama with a spinning elbow off the ropes and gets two off of a hiptoss. Haku gets two off of a standing dropkick. Gutwrench suplex gets two. Haku hooks in an abdominal stretch but Powers hiptosses out of it. Haku cuts off the tag, though, and slams Powers. However, a somersault onto Powers misses off of the ropes and we have a double KO. Haku gets up first and continues to unload and Powers gets in a kick to Haku’s head when he ducks it on a whip but that has no effect. Powers does not pump properly on a Haku dropkick and we have double KO #2. Hot tag Roma but the problem is that Roma is injured and Haku simply takes out his right knee when he tries a comeback. Haku devastates the knee with elbows and tags in Tama who splashes onto it from the top rope and a half Boston Crab makes the submission a formality at 7:32.

MATCH RATING: DEDUCTION. The match did not carry a lot of crowd heat because it involved two low card teams and a lot of the audience had already left the building before this match took place. However, it was a solid effort from both teams and the second fall actually had a decent story behind it of how much the injury would hobble the Stallions and the Islanders used a very smart strategy to win the match: they did not wait a second to pounce on Roma’s injured knee to quickly finish off the second fall and the match. Therefore, I guess you could cynically say that Roma’s injury actually helped the match. If you like traditional tag team wrestling you will like this match and since I fall into this group it gets a deduction instead of an audit rating.